Cover art for Exactly
Harper Collins, May 2018
Softcover, 416 pages
23.4cm × 15.3cm × 3.1cm

Exactly How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World

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Bestselling author Simon Winchester writes a magnificent history of the pioneering engineers who developed precision machinery to allow us to see as far as the moon and as close as the Higgs boson. Precision is the key to everything. It is an integral, unchallenged and essential component of our modern social, mercantile, scientific, mechanical and intellectual landscapes.

The items we value in our daily lives - a camera, phone, computer, bicycle, car, a dishwasher perhaps - all sport components that fit together with precision and operate with near perfection. We also assume that the more precise a device the better it is. And yet whilst we live lives peppered and larded with precision, we are not, when we come to think about it, entirely sure what precision is, or what it means. How and when did it begin to build the modern world? Simon Winchester seeks to answer these questions through stories of precision's pioneers. Why is precision important? What are the different tools we use to measure it? Who has invented and perfected it? Has the pursuit of the ultra-precise in so many facets of human life blinded us to other things of equal value, such as an appreciation for the age-old traditions of craftsmanship, art, and high culture? Are we missing something that reflects the world as it is, rather than the world as we think we would wish it to be? And can the precise and the natural co-exist in society?

Recommended by Barb Sampson

Barb takes care of the web orders here at Boffins, and is your contact for book club enquiries. She spends all her spare time curled up on the couch reading and for the last several years has reviewed books on the Afternoon Program on ABC radio Perth.

Beginning with a lovely story of how his engineer father piqued his interest in precision engineering, Simon Winchester takes us through the history of a discipline whose effects are felt worldwide. From the steam age to the space age, precision engineering has played a crucial role in our history. My favourite chapters are the ones contrasting Henry Ford and Henry Royce, and the making of the Model T Ford and the Rolls-Royce; the drama of QF32 in 2010 when an engine exploded mid-air; and his visit to the Seiko factory in Japan. Winchester has the gift of taking a subject that many might consider dry at best and creating a narrative that is both interesting and entertaining.

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